Child Protective Cases
Child protection proceedings are heard in the Maine District Court. The purpose of these proceedings is to keep children safe and to help families make a safe home for their children. A protective custody proceeding is not meant to punish parents.
A Judge can require you and your family to get help. Also, a Judge can order that your child be placed in the custody of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS or the "Department"). This means that, for the time being, the Department is legally responsible for your child and, with the approval of the Court, can make decisions about where your child should live and what you need to do to have your child returned to you.
The Maine law governing child protection cases is the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act, 22 M.R.S..§4001 et seq. The governing federal statutes and regulations are the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Jurisdiction over child protection cases lies with the Maine District Court with any appeals going directly to the Supreme Judicial Court. In 1999, the Supreme Judicial Court adopted a Case Management Procedure for Child Protective Cases. The procedure, which may be found in the Maine Rules of Court, is designed to help the District Court meet its obligations under federal and state law.
DHHS is the State agency that handles child protection cases. DHHS child protective caseworkers help families work toward outcomes that increase their children’s safety, investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and file Petitions for Child Protection with the court when DHHS believes the children are in immediate risk of serious harm despite the Department’s intervention. DHHS children’s services caseworkers are responsible for providing services to parents and children once children have been placed in DHHS custody. DHHS also has adoption workers who are responsible for handling cases following termination of parental rights unless the permanent plan for the child does not involve adoption.
The Office of the Attorney General (hereafter referred to as the Assistant Attorney General or A.A.G.) represents DHHS in court. Parents are automatically assigned an attorney when a petition for child protection is filed with the court. Additionally, when a petition for child protection is filed, a Guardian ad litem (GAL) is automatically assigned by the court to represent the best interests of the child(ren).
If a finding of abuse and/or neglect (ie., a jeopardy finding) is made by the court, whether by hearing or agreement of the parties, cases must be scheduled for a review at least every six months. Often an earlier review date is set to keep a case on track. For cases in which the parties do not agree as to the existence of jeopardy, the court schedules the case for hearing or trial.